Patients often present to a hearing clinic having experienced pain in the ear or noticing signs of an infection. One of the first questions a practitioner will ask is, ‘have you been trying to clean your ears?’ If so, they will then explain what happens when a cotton bud is put too far into the ear.
NHS Scotland lists the use of a cotton bud as one of the most common causes of earache. Inserting one too far into the ear can cause injury to the structures of the inner and middle ear and push wax further into the ear. This can lead to infection and potential hearing loss.
Our national compulsion to use cotton buds in the ears
Plastic cotton buds were made illegal in Scotland in 2019, with the rest of the UK following suit a few months later. That measure to reduce plastic waste hasn’t stopped our tendency to grab a cotton-tipped cardboard poker to try and scrape excess wax out of our stuffy-feeling ears.
62% of Brits say they use cotton buds to clean their ears. That’s a lot of people risking injury to their ears and increasing the chances of developing a nasty infection and potential hearing loss.
With such a national pastime of ridding our ears of the nasty-looking sticky yellow stuff that builds up oh so quickly, there has to be a better way. And there is. Once you realise what really happens when you stick a cotton bud too far into the ear, you’ll likely never attempt it again.
What happens when you put a cotton bud too far into the ear?
When you pick up a cotton bud, it really does seem as if that three-inch stick with furry ends was specifically made for scraping wax out of the ear. But it isn’t. In fact, the shape of a cotton bud doesn’t really do much to remove ear wax at all.
Originally designed as a baby hygiene product, the only recommended uses for cotton buds are for cleaning small areas such as around the eyes, nose and outer ear.
The risks of inserting a cotton bud too far into the ear are:
- Pushing hardened wax farther into the ear canal which then can’t be swept out by the self-cleaning actions of our ears.
- Increased risk of infection. As ear wax traps bacteria, pushing it further into the ear carries germs further in.
- Injuring the delicate structures of the outer ear and potentially puncturing the eardrum.
- Getting a foreign body stuck in the ear, for example, by the tip of the cotton pud coming off inside.
So what is the best way to remove ear wax?
You don’t really need to clean wax out of your ears. A little like a conveyor belt, the ear naturally carries wax out, so it will eventually be swept out.
Wax has a number of beneficial properties for ear health. As it is slightly acidic, it helps fight bacteria and fungus. It also provides a waterproof barrier to protect the ear itself.
In some situations though, the ear can build up an excessive amount of wax. In these circumstances, it’s best to see a clinician who will use the most appropriate method to remove ear wax safely.
At Almond Hearing, we will examine the ear and use video otoscopy to check its health before and after any procedure. If some damage to the ear is diagnosed, a suitable treatment plan will be advised with you and you may need a hearing test to check no hearing loss has been suffered.
To book a consultation for ear wax removal or a hearing test in Livingston, get in touch with our clinical experts today.